Court Says Man Can Continue To Sell Tasteless Walmart Parody T-Shirts

Score one for the First Amendment:

A Conyers man may continue criticizing Wal-Mart with parodies on T-shirts that compare the retail giant to the Holocaust and al-Qaida terrorists, a federal judge has ruled.
Timothy Batten in Atlanta ruled that Charles Smith may maintain his Web sites, and Smith also may continue to sell novelty, satirical merchandise that criticizes the company, the judge said.

“It’s great,” Smith, 50, from Conyers, said Tuesday about the ruling. “I’m relieved. Whenever you go into litigation against such a big company, you never know the outcome.”

“This is a resounding victory for First Amendment rights and sends a clear message to big corporations that would try to use their deep pockets to intimidate and silence their critics,” said one of Smith’s attorneys, Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen.

The judge apparently thought the t-shirts were quite funny:

Wal-Mart possesses strong and widely recognized trademarks, and the terms “Walocaust” and “Wal-Quaeda” are clearly a play on the famous Wal-Mart name, Batten wrote. For that reason, the judge ruled, it is unlikely that someone would confuse Wal-Mart’s trademarks with Smith’s parodies — “particularly one that calls to mind the genocide of millions of people, [and] another that evokes the name of a notorious terrorist organization.”

Batten added that he found the designs to be “successful parodies.”

Court upholds Conyers man’s criticisms of Wal-Mart [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]


Edit Your Comment

  1. CUBSWILLWIN says:

    Never try to ban funny t-shirts Walmart. That shows why this man makes these kind of shirts like you =)

  2. kpfeif says:

    Comparing Wal-Mart to the Holocaust. Yup, that’s good for some laughs. Maybe he can do something with Pol Pot’s killing fields, too. Hell, throw Stalin in there, too. The three horsemen of genocide – what a hoot!

  3. homerjay says:

    Oh, the hilarity!
    I wonder how much it cost this guy to go up against them?

  4. Dead Wrestlers Society says:

    @kpfeif: Couldn’t agree more. On his website, he mentions that he worries it might be in poor taste to do this. Should have listened to that little voice.

  5. B says:

    @Dead Wrestlers Society: Fortunately, the first amendment protects the tasteless, too.

  6. rpm773 says:

    Wearing a T-shirt that compares a big box retail store to the holocaust and Al Qaeda. What better way to announce that you’re a wild-eyed irrational with poor reasoning and comparison skills.

    I like to ask him his thoughts on the current administration and the Iraq war. I’m sure I’ll hear something surprising, insightful, and interesting.

    I applaud the court for protecting this man’s right to make an ass of himself to the world.

  7. Dead Wrestlers Society says:

    @B: Yep, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

  8. chiieddy says:

    @kpfeif: The guy never heard of Godwin’s law is all.

  9. Black Bellamy says:

    It might be in poor taste, but no goddamn Walmart lawyer has the right to tell him to stop.

  10. Beerad says:

    I agree, this seems like more of a victory for poor taste, but I’m sure the guy’s fat piles of cash from selling the shirts (nice of Wal-mart to give him crazy publicity by suing him) manage to assuage his conscience.

  11. novelgirl says:

    Regardless of whether these shirts are in poor taste, I’m glad Wal-Mart got spanked on this. The First Amendment protects speech that we might find distateful or offensive.

  12. Moosehawk says:

    @homerjay: It’s probably a good thing he’s getting all this free advertising to pay for the court costs.

  13. RandoX says:

    Freedom of speech. Even for douche bags.

  14. MisterE says:

    Score one for free speech! I would be interested to see how several school districts would respond if a kid would wear one of these shirts into the classroom.

  15. Antediluvian says:

    Ah, Barbra. Is there nothing your Streisand effect can’t do?

  16. KJones says:

    For those with memories too short to remember:


    Calling the t-shirt seller “tasteless” while Wal-Mart kept these shirtson the shelves long after they knew the shirts were offensive is utterly ridiculous.

  17. Antediluvian says:

    @KJones: Ah, but recall that Walmart promised to stop selling their shirts. They kept selling them anyway, demonstrating a massive failure of inventory control and information distribution processes in the company. This was also shown with various safety recalls. The shirts were not directly harmful, but if the process fails on something that simple, how can consumers trust the company to remove something that’s actual dangerous?

    That’s the difference between these stories of tasteless shirts and Walmart.

  18. henwy says:

    Morons will buy anything. It’s a tax on the stupid.

  19. dbson says:

    @Dead Wrestlers Society:
    Freedom of speech isn’t pick and choose. You can’t ask for it in some instances and then put it down in others. I don’t agree with the shirts like many of you, but I respect the man’s right to his freedom to speech without censorship. Who are you or anyone else to say he shouldn’t express his opinions. I can almost guarantee you as well as everyone else on here has at least 1 opinion that isn’t shard by the general public.

    If the government censors him, where would it stop?

  20. Beerad says:

    @KJones: Just because Walmart exercises poor taste doesn’t mean that this guy can’t also exercise poor taste. I don’t think anyone’s saying “Oh yeah, these are bad — not like those classy Nazi shirts Wal-mart sells!”

  21. Dead Wrestlers Society says:

    @dbson: Nobody is saying its pick and choose. I said the t-shirts were in poor taste which is my opinion, and it is as valid as yours or anybody else’s. I have the right to say they are in poor taste.

  22. Beerad says:

    @Moosehawk: FWIW, since at least one of his attorneys is from Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group, it’s unclear what his legal costs actually were.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or anything and certainly I’m glad the case came out that way… this also reminds me that my ACLU membership has lapsed.

  23. Parting says:

    Bad taste (especially if you wear it ;)

    But nothing illegal. Walmart should be paying cost for lawsuit for the guy.
    (There shouldn’t be a lawsuit in the first place !)

  24. Parting says:

    @MisterE: A school isn’t like your home. There are rules about what clothing you can wear, so anything offensive is forbidden. Either it’s tasteless Walmart or Playboy t-shirts.

  25. chargernj says:

    @kpfeif: Why not, who knows how many people, children even were injured, maimed or killed working in overseas sweatshops to provide products for the shelves of Walmart. It’s a parody, which means it is deliberately over the top.

    Recent events in Tibet should be enough to show that China would love to engage in some atrocities of their own. Notice how they are barring foreign journalist. and expelling those already there.

    While Walmart may not be guilty itself of genocide, they have no problem with dealing with war criminals and their ideological descendants in order to turn a buck.

  26. picardia says:

    Bad taste? Yes. Within the man’s legal rights? Yes. Wal-Mart should’ve known better than to fight that one — and in the process give him (and his cause) a lot of free publicity.

  27. SeaKaySea says:

    Wow. A judge that actually read the constitution!!! He won’t last long.

  28. kublaconsumer says:

    This has nothing to do with the constitution or freedom of speech. The constitution regulates government, not WalMart. So give three cheers for trademark litigation not free speech.

  29. Beerad says:

    @kublaconsumer: Well, it does to the extent that the government cannot shut you down unless you’re infringing on the trademark in this case. There is a relation between free speech and parody, but yeah the case was a trademark litigation and it wasn’t exactly a landmark decision on constitutional rights or anything.

  30. Trai_Dep says:

    I’d pay someone hard, cold cash to produce a couple hundred of these shirts, with scannable tags, and sneak them into Wal-Mart’s inventory.
    Beats the heck out of the Nazi shirts they’re so proudly stocking.

  31. Landru says:

    @kpfeif = shill

  32. clevershark says:

    If Jonah Goldberg can sell books that says that everyone to the left of him are fascists (which he can; that book can be seen on bookstore shelves everywhere already) I don’t see how these t-shirts are a problem.

  33. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    He should sue the hell out of Wally World & their shysters.
    The judge should have thrown the case out as a Rule 11 violation by the shysters without holding any type of evidentiary hearing & fined them because Hustler Magazine v. Falwell said that tastelessness is protected speech.

    And Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires all papers to be signed by the attorney (if party is represented). It also provides for sanctions against the attorney or client for harassment, frivolous arguments, or a lack of factual investigation. The purpose of sanctions is deterrent, not punitive. Courts have broad discretion about the exact nature of the sanction which can include consent to in personam jurisdiction, fines, dismissal of claims, or dismissal of the entire case.

  34. StevePJobs says:

    I want to see a Waldemart t-shirt. Part 1:

    Part 2:

  35. fuzzymuffins says:

    oh.. the list of evils that wal-mart has poured down on our world and our communities is longer than this space allows. wal-mart enacts it’s own form of economic terrorism and holocaust on our communities daily.

    i don’t think this man’s reaction is ‘tasteless’ at all.

    wal-mart should offend us all far more than a ‘walocaust’ t-shirt.

  36. SuperJdynamite says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that the judge found the merchandise amusing. He merely said it was a “successful parody,” which implies it was “successful” in meeting the legal criteria for parody, not that it was “successful” in making him laugh.

  37. modenastradale says:

    It amazes me that Wal-Mart — a company that should be trying to fix its demonic image in the market and political spheres — actually filed this frivolous lawsuit, and was then stupid enough to take it to trial.

    Perhaps Wal-Mart is counting on crumbling economic conditions to keep customers in its stores. And perhaps that strategy is sound. All I know is that I haven’t visited a Wal-Mart in more than 5 years, and no amount of financial need would send me there. Just buy less stuff — not shittier stuff from an abusive monstrosity.

  38. katman2 says:

    poor taste, yes, however who’s buying them?@Beerad:

  39. Stan LS says:

    @clevershark: I guess if you can comment on books you haven’t read, then I don’t see how these shirts can be a problem either.

  40. nequam says:

    @kublaconsumer: It does have to do with the First Amendment because a trademark infringement law that could be intepreted as rendering this sort of parody illegal would be violative of the First Amendment. In other words, the court has to construe the trademark laws in a manner consistent with the First Amendment.

    Where the 1st Amend. would not apply would be, say, if Walmart banned its employees from wearing these shirts to work.

  41. nequam says:

    @modenastradale: A minor point, perhaps, but the case did not reach trial. It was decided on summary judgment — essentially meaning that the court decided a trial was unnecessary.

  42. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @fuzzymuffins: Exactly. Anyone who shops there has no place whatsoever saying this is in poor taste.
    When wally world inc. is directly responsible for who knows how many factory closings in this country, then has the nerve to say that the jobs they offer are comparable. Yes, they have done that.

  43. kublaconsumer says:

    @nequam: It has absolutely nothing to do with the 1st amendment. Trademark law protects property, in this case a trademark, from being used by someone else. The dispute here wasn’t between the government and a citizen. It was between two private parties. WalMarts logo is their property and if they don’t want people using it then they litigate using civil trademark law, not constitutional law. Apples and oranges here.

  44. .
    This must be one of those ‘activist’ judges I keep hearing about but have never met.

  45. taka2k7 says:

    hmmm, seems like a great opportunity to wear this shirt in Wal Mart, and see if they challenge you for a receipt. Better yet, purchase a gun from Wal Mart and head to the door with the manager in tow and then refuse to show your receipt.

  46. mikelotus says:

    anyone that thinks this guy is in poor taste is a nazi.

  47. Tonguetied says:

    Tasteless, crude, over the top, moronic and stupid. The guy’s an idiot if he really believes what his t-shirts claim. But it’s perfectly legal and should never have gone to court in the first place.

  48. S-the-K says:

    I don’t think it is so much “parody” as it is “retarded”. Methinks the guy may be an “America hater always” himself. Otherwise, I agree with Tonguetied.

  49. Darren W. says:

    Am I the only one surprised that he wasn’t sued by Al-Qaeda for associating them with Wal-Mart?